By Simon Evans ,Reuters
The Pittsburgh Steelers are out for revenge against the Baltimore Ravens in their AFC North divisional clash on a Sunday packed with fascinating match-ups in the National Football League (NFL). The regular season is at the half-way stage, and in addition to the pounding defenses in Pittsburgh, the week nine highlights include the AFC East clash between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets and the league’s only unbeaten team, the Green Bay Packers, at the San Diego Chargers. But it is the always-fierce rivalry between the Steelers (6-2) and the Ravens (5-2) that will provide compulsive viewing, with Pittsburgh looking to avenge their week-one 35-7 loss in Baltimore. “This is one of those games as players that you really want to be part of,” said Steelers receiver Hines Ward. “It seems like it always ends up being on prime time and for us, they whipped our tails the first time so we now have a chance to get some get-back and hopefully take control of the AFC North,” added Ward. Both teams come into the game on the back of morale boosting victories, the Ravens overcame a 21-point deficit to defeat the Arizona Cardinals 30-27 in the biggest comeback in franchise history. Pittsburgh boosted their credentials for the playoffs by defeating New England 25-17 with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 365 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers lead the series by 18 wins to 13 and will hope that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is as shaky as he was before the comeback against Arizona. Defending Super Bowl champions Green Bay return from their bye-week looking to extend their franchise-record 16 straight wins.
California Return Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has guided the Packers to their best start since 1962 and he stands atop the NFL’s quarterback rankings with 20 touchdowns and unmatched completion percentage of 71.5 percent. The game in San Diego, against a Chargers team who are returning from three games on the road, marks a first NFL start in California for Rodgers who, having been born in Chico, Northern California, played his college football for the University of California and now has his off-season residence in the south of the state. “It’s always nice to come back to California. It will be nice to play in San Diego, you have got a great field, a nice fast track and it’ll be fun to see some friends and family,” he said. The Jets (4-3) can make some headway in the AFC East if they can deal with the Bills (5-2) who are tied at the top of the division with the New England Patriots. New York is also coming back fresh from a bye but has won their last two outings while the Bills defeated Washington 23-0 in Buffalo’s annual game in Toronto. “We know we have the opportunity right in front of us, trying to win our division and we’re running into it. We understand that and we will be ready,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
“Our guys are fresh but mentally we have to be focused and sharp and understand that it will be a physical game,” he said. The New Orleans Saints, who suffered shock defeat to the St. Louis Rams last week, have a tough test against divisional rivals Tampa. Tampa beat the Saints 26-20 in Florida last month and New Orleans are desperate to improve on their 5-3 start to the season. “It’s been a little bit of back and forth. But we know the standard, we know how good we can be and now it is a matter of no excuses,” said quarterback Drew Brees.